Energy regulators' work & COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had important economic and social repercussions across the globe thatalso impacted the energy sector. As an immediate response in March 2020, CEER Members decided to establish an ad hoc working group, chaired by CEER Vice-President Jean-Laurent Lastelle, to exchange best practices in these unprecedented times. In other words, the group focuses on assessing how the energy sector was affected by this pandemic, as well as the steps that governments, regulators, and others in the energy sector took in response to this crisis.
On 29 March 2021, the working group published its First Analysis of the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on the Energy Sector. This interim report seeks to highlight the pandemic’s impact on the energy market as a whole and on energy companies in particular. Furthermore, it summarises the approaches national regulatory authorities from 28 participating countries took to protect energy customers during these extraordinary times.
The report was presented at CEER’s Annual Conference on 30 March 2021 as well as at the 9th Eastern Partnership Workshop on 29 April 2021.
One of the main findings of this report is that the energy sector demonstrated its resilience throughout the pandemic. Energy demand and market prices receded in several countries but the system as such continued operating. To protect consumers in a context of business closures and income losses, the majority of jurisdictions made sure that consumers would not be disconnected in the case of unpaid energy bills. Moreover, governments agreed on providing other support to households and businesses, which in most cases did not directly target the energy sector. At the time the report was released, the pandemic’s impact on energy suppliers and network operators was not fully clear yet, notably in terms of unpaid bills and loss in tariff revenue. In the chapter “Lessons learnt and good practices”, energy national regulatory authorities (NRAs) flagged the importance of a swift and complete exchange of information with all stakeholders (government, network operators etc.) and the acceleration of digitalisation and remote operations in the energy sector to tackle the crisis. Furthermore, they highlighted the moratorium on disconnections as the most effective measure to support consumers throughout the crisis.
The ad hoc working group's second Analysis of the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effects on the Energy Sector - Second Report was published on 8 February 2022. With this report, CEER continues its previous analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the energy sector. The report is based on the replies of 24 regulatory authorities and covers a period ranging from January 2020 to June 2021.
The report finds that a majority of CEER countries imposed nationwide lockdowns which restricted social and economic life and, as a consequence, reduced electricity and gas consumption, as well as electricity and natural gas prices. The relative impact of the pandemic was more pronounced for electricity than for gas. Moreover, the first wave of lockdowns, which was imposed simultaneously in most countries in spring 2020, had a more obvious effect on energy indicators than the later waves of restrictions, which were generally less severe. Hence, other factors such as weather conditions and commodity prices played a bigger role towards the end of 2020 and in 2021.
Most CEER countries took measures to protect energy consumers from the economic effects of the pandemic. The most prevalent were moratoria on disconnections, which helped to secure energy supply for consumers in case of payment difficulties. Similarly, aid for businesses, not specifically targeted toward the energy sector, was available. This may explain why no NRA reported specific pandemic-induced difficulties for energy suppliers – in contrast to their experience during the energy price surge in 2021.
Furthermore, NRAs had to adapt their work methods, e.g. transitioning to full-time teleworking. Therefore, the main lessons identified by NRAs include the overall resilience of the energy sector, the importance of protecting consumers, and the overall positive changes made to work procedures throughout the sector (such as the uptake in teleworking, remote operations and digitalisation). The report includes a detailed list of all measures taken by NRAs, which underlines the key role they played during the pandemic.
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